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HomeLanguageEnglishThe Role of Citizen and Science Diplomacy Interactions in Nuclear Disarmament

The Role of Citizen and Science Diplomacy Interactions in Nuclear Disarmament


By J Nastranis

NEW YORK (IDN) — The year 2021 marks the 30th anniversary of the closure of the Semey test site, the 76th anniversary of the United Nations, Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings, of the first atomic testing Trinity, 51 years of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), 25 years of the The Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) which is not entered into force, collapse of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) and extension of New START Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) until February 2026. [2021-08-18 |12] JAPANESE | PORTUGUESE | RUSSIAN

Marzhan Nurzhan, a UNODA/OSCE Scholar for Peace and Security, has availed of the opportunity to write a two-part series of articles in ‘Atomic Reporters’, titled “Roles of key civil society actors in nuclear disarmament—Epistemic communities in multi-track diplomacy fora”. Nurzhan showcases some of the instances of track 2 diplomacy activities through citizen and science diplomacy interactions.

“These occasions,” says Nurzhan, “serve as a reminder to further continue pursuit of global nuclear disarmament in retaining negative peace implications and reinforce the need for more engagement on the topic of nuclear arms and international security through civil society empowerment, disarmament education, peacebuilding activities and mediation via multi-track diplomacy channels”.

She was Fellow at the Nuclear Nonproliferation Education and Research Center at the KAIST. She was also the Education/Outreach Coordinator for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization’s (CTBTO) Youth Group in 2019-2020. In 2017, Nurzhan was chosen by the President of the UN General Assembly as the youth speaker for the United Nations High Level Meeting on Nuclear Disarmament that was held that year.

Guided by the principle of social responsibility to the dual nature of science, the roles and actions of the scientists to be a part of the discussions laid the foundation of the term “citizen scientist”, states Nurzhan.

One of the most prominent examples of the actions of citizen scientists was the collaboration on a manifesto issued jointly by Albert Einstein and Bertrand Russel in 1955, which emphasized the dangers of nuclear arms and called for peaceful resolution of international conflict caused by the Cold War.

The manifesto was launched under the chairmanship of Joseph Rotblat, a nuclear physicist, who worked to develop the first atomic bomb in the framework of the Manhattan project. With a strong belief that science and research should purport peace, Rotblat assembled a group of scientists and others from the east and west blocks under the auspices of the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs, that he established to provide platform for dialogue on the issues of disarmament and global security.

He was also recognized as a citizen scientist while being awarded a Nobel Peace Prize (1995) shared with the Pugwash movement for “their efforts to diminish the part played by nuclear arms in international politics and, in the longer run, to eliminate such arms”.

Although an American epistemic community pioneered the foundation of the internationally common knowledge and system of nuclear arms control, collaboration with the Soviets to avert nuclear war and retain strategic stability strengthened security regime between the opposing sides, continues Nurzhan. Thanks to the establishment of an international negotiation agenda based on the epistemic community engagement, policy proposals were taken into consideration and implemented in various ways.

Track two diplomacy was practiced not only within scientific circles, but also encouraged citizen diplomats, among the ordinary public, to join the efforts to promote peace and preserve humankind from the catastrophe of nuclear conflict. One of the instances was connected with the American girl Samantha Smith, who wrote a letter to then Soviet leader, Yuri Andropov, to convey her concern regarding the possible nuclear exchange between two superpowers in 1982. She was invited to visit the Soviet Union which displayed the peacebuilding initiative that resulted in the establishment of cultural exchange programs with the United States fostering further growth of citizen diplomacy.

Another example of the citizen diplomacy is the American-Soviet peace walks comprised of a five-week long trip from Leningrad to Moscow that took place in 1987 and brought together 230 Americans and 200 Soviets impacting the way of their interaction and creating better understanding between the people from two axis of powers.

Amid these citizen diplomacy initiatives, the doctors from the USA and the USSR founded an organisation called International Physicians for the Prevention of the Nuclear War (IPPNW) in 1980, which was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize in 1985. Despite the ideological divide, they demonstrated a common interest in preserving humankind from atomic warfare. They organised anti-nuclear protests to stop worldwide testing and to raise awareness of the public regarding the health, humanitarian and environmental consequences of the use of nuclear weapons.

Another fact of citizen diplomacy was depicted by the decision of Soviet officer, Stanislav Petrov, to save the world from the nuclear conflict whereas his duty was to register external missile attack, when in one of the days in 1983 the Soviet Union early-warning systems elicited an incoming nuclear strike which must had been reported and he instead chose to dismiss it as a false notification.

All these examples of citizen diplomacy actions along with science diplomacy and track two diplomacy interactions led to more appearance and diversity of informed civil society actors, resulting in the rise of non-governmental organisations to participate in international deliberations and demanding nuclear disarmament, notes Nurzhan. For instance, the NPT Preparatory Committee meetings and Review Conferences serve as a main forum for civil society actors and NGOs to officially take part in public meetings, deliver speeches and statements, organise side-events since 1994.

In 1995 at the Review Conference of the NPT, 195 NGOs attended as observers, where the indefinite extension of the Treaty was made. United in the pursuit of nuclear disarmament and abolition of the nuclear arms, representatives of the NGOs jointly prepared a statement consisting of 11 points which called for a nuclear weapons convention that takes into account a verification aspect, the illegality of the use and threat to use nuclear arms, the completion of a truly comprehensive test ban treaty, a start of negotiations on a treaty to eliminate nuclear weapons within a specific timeframe and etc.

“Since then, civil society actors actively participate in every NPT meetings at the United Nations and have the opportunity to address the delegations within given time, to make interventions at the official meetings, to organise briefings, to engage in a dialogue with the representatives of the governments and voice their issues,” states Nurzhan.

However, there are also some limitations related to the participation of the NGOs in the closed meetings between the States Parties due to security concerns given the confidential nature of arms control negotiations and mechanism of the NPT process.

Nevertheless, there is a recent practice of including civil society actors, scientific or political researchers in most of the cases, members of the parliament into the States delegations at the table of negotiations to influence policy field to function as advisors, which is in line with the recommendation based on the UN Study on Disarmament and Non-proliferation Education (2002).

Thus, throughout time, activities of civil society in the nuclear field transformed from being seen as activists or protesters to becoming more professional as epistemic community representatives, and their role in multilateral negotiations was decisive in exerting pressure and influence by campaign work, advocacy initiatives and lobbying to adopt several agreements such as the CTBT in 1996, advisory opinion on the legality of threat or use of nuclear weapons by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) issued in 1996.

After a political stalemate at the NPT and absence of significant progress for years to fulfil the Article Six obligation by the States Parties, effective and democratic participation of the nuclear disarmament epistemic community at the multilateral forum of the United Nations OEWG (Open-ended working group) taking forward multilateral nuclear disarmament negotiations in 2016 under imperative of the “catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapon”, which subsequently led to the adoption of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) in 2017 and entry into force in January 2021. [IDN-InDepthNews — 18 August 2021]

Photo: Protesters. Source: Atomic Reporters.

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